North Xtra: Mars closes in on berth in playoffs

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With all the rainouts and make-up games, the 2014 WPIAL baseball season has been one to remember.

Through all of that, teams have made it to the final week of section play and the playoff picture and section titles are getting a little less blurry.

In Class AAA Section 5, Hampton is in the driver’s seat for another section title but will have to constantly check the rear-view mirror to keep an eye on Mars Area.

Entering the final week of section play, the Fightin’ Planets trailed the Talbots by two games.

“Hampton is one of the top teams in Class AAA,” said Mars coach Brian Hobaugh, who is in his 21st year at Mars and 15th as head coach. “Without saying, us beating them would be a big step for us to play with the big boys. It would give us a chance to win the section title. We are capable, we just have to put together a good game.”

Mars (8-5, 5-2) still has its primary goal in tact, and that is to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.

“Our first goal is to make the playoffs,” Hobaugh said. “If you look at where we are right now, that has to be our main goal. We lost a game to Highlands that we shouldn’t have. It will be hard to win the section [title].”

The Planets have given themselves a fighting chance by winning five of their past six games. Even during the hot stretch, Hobaugh doesn’t believe he has seen the best from his team.

“No, I honestly don’t,” Hobaugh said. “We are having moments of good pitching and defense. We are not getting all three facets of the game at once yet.

“It seems like we hit down through the lineup a little bit better. It seems like we did that in our last game. We haven’t done that a whole lot this year until recently.”

The Planets have made their way to this point mostly on the arms of three pitchers. Seniors Nathan Furl and Matt Parrish and junior Cam Smith have anchored the rotation. Smith has stepped up as one of the top pitchers and threw his best game on April 10 when he pitched a no-hitter against Kittanning.

“We don’t have a dominating pitcher like we did last year,” Hobaugh said. “Anyone of those pitchers can go out there on any given day and get the job done.”

Offensively, there has been no better hitter than Ty Reginelli. A junior third baseman, he has his average up to .518.

“He is a line drive kind of hitter,” Hobaugh said. “He generates a decent amount of power for his size. He has been our most consistent hitter the whole year. He is batting in the two and three hole for us.”

Also contributing is Parrish and senior Kevin Gannon, who are hitting in the .350 range.

Over the years, Mars has witnessed some stellar records in the regular season only to find itself struggle to get past the first round in the playoffs. The Planets have lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs the past three years and it all boils down to one aspect — hitting.

“The last three year’s we lost in the first round,” Hobaugh said. “It seems like the same thing is that we didn’t hit. Last year we faced the best pitcher in the WPIAL in Blackhawk’s Brendan McKay. He struck out 16 guys and we had only one hit.

“The loss to Belle Vernon the year before was the most disappointing. We only had three hits against their number two kid. The common factor is getting hits and key hits and that is why we haven’t advanced. Our pitching has been good in those games but hitting is the key.”

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